Lunchbox show a Gift to theatregoers
A story of perfect simplicity, flawlessly told.
That’s what awaits the noontime theatre crowd — or any theatregoer, for that matter —at Lunchbox Theatre over the next three weeks.
And it’s getting to be a Lunchbox tradition at this time of year.
Last season, Lunchbox hit Remembrance Day paydirt with an original musical, In Flanders Fields, a production which tugged at the heartstrings through the clarity, directness and honesty of its storytelling.
Now, the company has hit paydirt again — big time, and for the same reasons — with a solo show that has proved a hit across Canada since 2007.
In Jake’s Gift, created and performed by Julia Mackey, we meet Jake, a Canadian Second World War vet reluctantly revisiting the shores of Normandy on the 60th anniversary of D-Day.
While wandering Juno Beach, one of five sectors in the Allied Normandy landings, crusty old Jake encounters Isabelle, a precocious 10-year-old French girl.
Over the next few days, the inquisitive young Isabelle’s wide-eyed candour and innocence considerably lightens Jake’s burden. He feels guilt and love unexpressed with regard to his older brother Chester, who died on those same shores during the invasion.
And it is Isabelle’s small but profound gift that elicits a similarly profound present from Jake in return.
We learn from the program notes that Mackey was moved to create Jake’s Gift after attending ceremonies attached to the 60th anniversary of D-Day and talking at length to many of the Canadian veterans who also made the trip.
The result, superbly directed and lit by Dirk Van Stralen and Gerald King, respectively, represents a powerful testament to the beauty and magic of friendship between the very young and the very old. It’s a relationship which, in this play, has its share of funny moments, too, especially when Isabelle is seen as a mere pest in Jake’s eyes before he regards her as a friend.
Mackie, who also portrays two relatively minor roles in Jake’s Gift — a schoolteacher and Isabelle’s grandmother — displays great virtuosity in moving seamlessly between the voicings of two main characters at opposite ends of the age spectrum, with all that that implies.
The transitions are clear, the mannerisms and gestures concise and polished, unerringly authentic. And thankfully, accents are non-existent — or almost non-existent in the case of Jake, who wouldn’t sound out of place in working-class Montreal.
Jake’s Gift is a show that loses nothing in a comparison to such stellar past one-woman shows as The Shape of a Girl or I, Claudia.
And while it doesn’t have the darkness of those other shows, it still brings the tears.